Friday, April 15, 2011

What I Am Working On

It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.
~ Joyce Maynard

I try to periodically take inventory of what's working and what could use some improving in my parenting. I think it is important for me to challenge myself and push myself to become a better parent each and every day. I thought I would share with you some of the things that I am working on these days...

1. “Hold on one second.” I know that it is impossible for me to immediately drop everything every single time Alexandra needs something. That being said, I realized a while back that I was telling her to wait or hold on when I could have stopped what I was doing and responded to her immediately. Even though I always give an explanation (“Hold on one second, let mommy put this box away and then we can play), I still feel like I overuse this “delay button.” Sometimes I really don’t need her to wait. I can stop what I am doing and direct my attention towards her at the very moment she needs me.

My Goal: Before I say “Hold on,” I need to double check and make sure she really does need to wait or if I can respond to her on the spot. She will have to wait for plenty of things in life. Waiting for mama doesn't need to be on that list!

2. “It’s alright.” I am trying to avoid saying this too often because it is an “empathy blocker.” Even if I am trying to comfort Alexandra or reassure her when I say this (certainly noble ends), using this phrase too often could potentially diminish her ability to trust her own feelings and interpretation of circumstances. If she is scared and I am repeating over and over again that it’s alright or fine, she may lose confidence in her ability to judge a situation. What’s scary for a toddler may be different than what is scary for an adult. Her interpretation of something—her truth—is just as valid and real as mine. In addition, by overusing empathy blockers such as "it's alright," I also potentially sending the message that her feelings and fears don’t matter to me, which is far from the case.

My Goal: Instead of saying “it’s alright,” I am trying to say things like, “I understand” or “I see you are scared/mad/upset/etc” or just reassuring her by rubbing her back.

3. “Sweet.” I’m not sure if this is a Southern thing, but I often hear little girls (and adult women!) being referred to as sweet or even as sweet foods, like “cupcake,” “pudding,” “sweetie pie,” “honey,” and so forth. I often say things, “Oh, how sweet!” if Alexandra does something kind or “What a sweet girl!” The overall impact is that I am sending Alexandra the dangerous cultural message that girls need to always be “sweet,” read: gentle, patient, kind, and friendly. Sure, I want to raise a kind, patient daughter, but I also want her to feel comfortable accepting all of the parts of her personality…even the salty ones.

My Goal: Alfie Kohn urges people to praise actions, not people, so I am working on acknowledging actions instead of selected personality traits. If I do praise personality attributes, I think throwing in some praise for being smart or strong could be useful, since girls tend to hear praise for these traits less often than their male counterparts.

What are you working on in your parenting journey these days? Please leave a comment!